My path to witchdom via phytotherapy and aromatherapy
Being in the business of serving up wild edibles, there is no doubt that we attract a special sort of clientele – yes, foodies in search of new gastronomic adventures, those embracing the growing trend of local, seasonal, organic and wild, as well as the DIY earth hugging granolas for whom food is medicine and health a religion. The latter always bothered me slightly because I’m more of a hedonist, somewhat of an accidental proponent of healthy food.
Taste has always come first for me. Which has always made me seek out and value quality. The best and freshest naturally means local and seasonal, organic, the least transformed the better. Eco-sense, ethics, community and traceability have increasingly become important to me too. Luckily, wholesomeness follows naturally – bonus!
Up until now, when customers inquired about medicinal properties it kind of got on my nerves.. ‘Just choose to eat good quality, real food, lots of variety, enjoy it! and everything will be fine’ is my mantra. No need to be a strict vegetarian or raw foodist, nor treat food as medicine, follow diets, take supplements or read nutrition labels. I hate the idea of taking the fun out of eating, when it can be such a source of pleasure on a daily basis. Good food and health seem to go hand in hand without too much superfluous worrying. Maybe it’s easy for me to say, because fruit and veg, cheese, nuts, whole grains, rice and moderate amounts of naturally raised meat make me happy - not fast food, big ass feedlot steaks or sweet desserts; wine yes, cola no. It surely helps that I love cooking and have easy access to the best ingredients, not distracted at the stove by screaming fussy kids either.
I stand by this, but now that I’ve got the cooking part pretty much down, I can’t help but be interested in plants as medicine. Just to keep learning, to branch out in parallel, to more fully understand the power of the plants at hand and of our diets and well being in general. And so that my customers don’t get on my nerves.
So I took a few classes at the Jardins Botaniques – on Medicinal Plants, another on Aromatherapy/Essential oils, and oh a perfume atelier just for fun. Wow, another world opened up - utterly fascinating. I remain one who would rather eat my garlic in a dressing or stir-fry rather than oil a clove to be propelled up an orifice (for a cold), but hey, it’s good to know. I now understand the concoctions of smashed greens François slathered onto my bites and burns. I never knew cabbage and parsley leaves could do so much for bobos or nursing mothers, nor how useful clay is. Now I can say that my stinging nettle soup benefits your intestines/liver/digestion and might calm your excited kids right down. I can state with assurance that our house tisane has mega purifying, calming, tonic properties, and pregnant women can drink it in moderation without worries. I’ve learnt about all kinds of new tricks and plants that can heal or at least help most common problems. If I had a baby, I wouldn’t be rushing off to Urgence right away, knowing how to slowly lower the temperature or gauge how serious the trouble is, what to do in the meantime.. I have acquired many more uses for onions, wild greens and many of the things hanging around my kitchen. To think that other budding naturopaths have to go to a health food store and buy powder or pellets.
This is all useful knowledge that will only be reinforced this year as François picks the plants and I cook or put them up; all of a sudden, I will be seeing them in a different light. And I will finally be able to intelligently answer keener granola customer questions with more than anecdotes without wanting to brush them off.
Although less directly connected to our work at Les Jardins Sauvages, I have to say that it is the essential oils that really enthralled me. I am attracted to Aromatherapy because I am a nose person and I love all the natural scents; they just make me happy. Little did I know how much more there was to it though! Being concentrated essences of plants (by distillation), essential oils (not oils persay by the way), they are medicine, natural antibiotics (as well as sedatives, digestive aids, tonics, skin care remedies and everything else..). Of course you have to know how to use them; they have to be administered with knowledge and care because an internal treatment could be like drinking 100 tisanes, an external treatment like putting a ton of petals into your bath or skin cream. (Extra caution is in order when it comes to children and pregnant or nursing mothers). Most commercial shampoos, creams or pharmaceuticals rely on the same active molecules, only from a cheaper source, often synthetic or diluted, pumped up with preservatives and stuff you don’t need, hence the side effects. That’s another thing – I was happy to learn how to distinguish the real thing from all the crap out there. Let’s just say that you cannot trust the chick in the health food store if you’re making your own medicine.
It always annoyed me how unregulated this world was, which made me less inclined to dabble in it or take it seriously. But the great thing about pyhtotherapy/homeopathy and etc in Canada in general is that it’s open – so that if you are well equipped, you are free enough; no need for a prescription or a diploma to buy a plant extract or an essential oil, like in France say. The downside to this is that there is so much fraud & n’importe quoi out there to navigate through, that you can easily hit and miss, give up on a ‘natural’ treatment or even worsen your problem if not well guided.
No, I haven’t started cooking with essential oils – I prefer the plants in their raw state for that. But for the pleasure of a nice scent in the room or on my body; for most minor ailments, colds, aches and pains, skin creams or cosmetics, household products, I’m sold on the merit of essential oils. Even internally for a cleanse or to treat a digestive problem or infection, say urinary or gastro..
For the record, I was never taken by traditional medicine anyway, probably because I don’t like taking pills or foul tasting medicine, but also because I never found that much of it really worked. Luckily, I don’t get sick much, but I’ve become sceptical with respect to doctors who don’t listen and prescribe, prescribe, prescribe. I’d rather deal with my sleep issues than become addicted to pills; I prefer to suffer some pain than feel AFU and sick from pain killers. I dealt with my decapitated nose sans painkillers. Often, over the course of my life, I’ve filled out prescriptions and not taken them, everything turning out fine. I’ve also cooked many fancy dinners for pharmaceutical companies watching them woo the doctors. I’ve lived long enough to believe in the placebo effect, and so if a medication does scarcely better, that’s bogus and not the basis of an industry the way I see it.. Conditions created to justify sketchy products, all the kids on Ritalin - it all makes me queasy. From observing my entourage, I’m also very worried about antibiotics, seeing how often they aren’t effective and what havoc they can wreak on a system. So, if essential oils can do the trick, I’m all for it.
I have yet to personally test a lot of all that I believe to be true, and I’m extremely cautious, starting slowly, reading extensively. Aromatherapy is better documented than you might think. Yet, with what I’ve actually done, I see results and it’s so much more enjoyable than conventional medicine, the aromas! I think François is a little scared. I have a concoction for everything and he is my live-in guinea pig. So as soon as he shows signs of an ache or pain or digestive problem, I’m on top of him. At least he’s getting more massages. He’s right that I was almost disappointed when his cold symptoms didn’t amount to anything one day, all he needed was rest. When he woke up, there were jars of potions waiting for him, not to be tested, sigh.
Here are some simple things that have worked for me (some straight, others diluted in an appropriate oil like almond or noisette, olive or argan) - the tip of the iceberg:
#1 To relax/sleep: True Lavender (also Orange, Ylang Ylang) – on solar plexis, wrists, interior elbows. I’ve been an insomniac all my life – nothing makes me sleep. Melatonin sucks compared to this.
#2 Headache/sluggish morning: Menthe poivrée dabbed precisely on temples, wrists; Epinette noire on back spine (adrenal glands).
#3 Muscle Pain, cramps: Eucalyptus citroné, Basilic, Anis vert, Menthe poivrée, Lavande – massage, works instantly to ease pain/inflammation
#4 Digestion: Basilic, Citron, Menthe Poivrée, Lavande – massaged on stomach. I made this for François but used it one night after a big restaurant meal, felt it all move down, slept well
#5 Psoriasis: Bois de rose, Sauge, Lavande, Tea tree, Menthe verte in Calendula
#6 Mouthwash and spray : Menthe Poivrée, Citron, Thym à thymol, Tea tree, Eucalyptus radié (5% in water, need to shake) – I love this; it keeps your mouth fresh for way longer than normal mouthwash, and a spray bottle in the car makes up for moments when you can’t brush..
#7 Air freshener/sanitizer: Sapin baumier, eucalyptus globulus, lavande, pamplemousse, verveine on and on. I’ve made a few specific deodorizers (bathroom, kitchen) diluted in water and a shot of alcohol. More frequently (every night), I play with the oils I put in the pot on the wood stove like I was cooking up the perfect fragrance for the room & my mood. (I have yet to purchase a diffuseur or nebulisateur).
#8 Kitchen cleaning/cutting board: Citron/pamplemousse
#9 Tea Tree oil: straight onto a new pimple
These are examples of easy external uses, but there are many more possibilities around the household, as well as internally - which I’ve been looking into, with friends and family members in mind. Say for Excema, Flatulences, Constipation, Migraines, Menopause, Sinus issues etc.. Because between FB and me, we don’t have enough bobos to satisfy my hunger to come up with remedies.
Besides formulating my own creams, cough syrup, sanitizer and bugspray, I am very into the theoretical exercise of finding the perfect accessible essential oil treatment for every ailment, also bringing in my plant class and food knowledge, with suggestions for diet, lifestyle and etc, tisanes on the side, and including other old school treatments like the ‘bain de siege’.. So funny, but did you know that sitting your ass down in cold water can do a lot of good things (not just for fever, but circulation, constipation..)
I’d rather eat well and exercise than have to stick a garlic clove up my butt or sleep with crushed onions in my socks and lettuce and/or clay strapped onto my body or sit in icy water, but I guess I’d prefer the above to going to the hospital. With essential oils, I feel like I might be able to keep all that to a minimum when the time comes, no antibiotics or medicine - only rarely some stinky old school witchery.. And as for the pissenlit, ortie, achilée and plantain, bring them on .. All these wild plants seem to be common arsenal – preventative on all levels; ortie our magic plant like ginger for the Chinese. I am now the girl that walks around with a mason jar of some green infusion in hand. I find that it makes me drink more water besides all the other benefits.
Watch out, I may very well be on my way to becoming a witch. However, in my den, there will always be good food and wine and sweet smelling things, not just bitter tisane and painful ointments. At Les Jardins Sauvages, maybe I should make it a tag-line - you get good food, meat and decadence but with a major dose of greens on the side, tisane to finish, phytotherapy!. I could even offer up an essential oil rub or pastille to help digestion for the road, for a supplement of course.